The alarm went off, it was 3:50 AM. It was January, and at Chopta the temperatures were way beyond freezing. The Quilt was warm and comforting and, I simply did not want to come out. Coming out would mean trekking 4 kilometers in temperatures dropping 15 to 20 degrees below freezing.
Fast forward to 15 minutes later, I was ready and headed to Tungnath. Except for the dogs barking at a madman (me), I could not hear a soul. The frost that had fallen in the night, meant the snow would be hard and slippery as it could be. Taking every step very carefully, it took me 2 hours to reach Tungnath.
The sun was still to rise and though I was sweating inside, the water in my bottle had frozen completely. Covered more than a foot in snow, Tungnath looked like a world completely divergent to what i had experienced earlier. I had a few minutes before sunrise, and as I scampered to shoot the godlike landscape in-front of me, I heard some birds calling in the ridge below me.
I wasn’t too surprised to see Snow partridges and was actually expecting them. Although, they all called in alarm at seeing a stranger at that hour, they weren’t afraid and kept feeding, less than 30 feet from me.
At that moment though, I was more interested in the beautiful light which was painting the beautiful Himalayan peaks to my front. They kept feeding, I kept shooting.
By the time I had finished shooting the Himalaya, my toes and fingers were beginning to pain. I now focused all my attention to the huge flock of around 30, feeding all around me. As I sat down to shoot,the realization of how cold the Magnesium alloy metal body of my lens was, hit me like a rock. Looking through the viewfinder, my hands (and body) shaking like crazy, I just prayed for the sun to come out.
Notes on Exposure:
Since the bugyal was all covered in snow, it was a challenge to get a proper exposure for these dark birds. Although it might sound paradoxical, the best strategy to get a proper exposure for a dark subject in snow is to overexpose the shot. While shooting in Manual mode, overexpose the shot till you see blinkies on the snow. Then continue bringing down the exposure by 1/3 of a stop till the time the blinkies (almost) disappear. Now when you shoot the subject and provided the light has not changed drastically, the subject and the snow should have a balanced exposure and neither should be too underexposed or overexposed.
If you shoot in Aperture priority/Shutter Priority mode, increase the exposure till the time you see blinkies and bring it down 1/3 of a stop till the blinkies disappear. But keep in mind, introducing the subject will change your exposure every-time. The best strategy here is to keep checking the histogram after every sequence of burst and adjust exposure accordingly.
The Snow partridges were very friendly and continued to feed for minutes thereafter. At times they came so close, all I could do was just observe. After a few minutes, one by one they went out of sight to a ridge below. I had in this duration fired at least a 100 shots and when the last of the snow partridges had left, and as I kept the lens down, I realized my fingers and toes were numb with pain. The ridge above me was being lit by the sun and I all could do was to trudge towards that ridge, my body saying “Praveen if you don’t get to that ridge, I will probably die”.
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May the Himalaya bless you always. 🙂